Mitsubishi F-2 fighters of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) have conducted a month of air-to-air refuelling trials with a tanker of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

The work took place from 4-27 April and involved F-2s taking fuel from an Airbus Defence & Space A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT), according to the JASDF. The Australian designation for the MRTT is KC-30A.

“Air-to-air refuelling is an essential function of fighter aircraft operations and greatly contributes to JASDF-RAAF interoperability,” says the JASDF.

According to the RAAF, the programme involved nine flights between the MRTT and F-2 in various conditions. The F-2 also carried a variety of different stores.

The MRTT operated fron Nagoya’s Komaki airbase, where Tokyo’s Boeing KC-767 tankers are based.

“The F-2’s outer-mould line and configuration differences, when compared to previous results of the [Lockheed Martin] F-16, meant a handling qualities assessment was required,” says Colin White of the RAAF’s Aircraft Research and Development Unit.

“We need to determine the mechanical compatibility of its refuelling receptacle with the KC-30A [Advanced Refuelling Boom System] nozzle, and compatibility with its refuelling system supporting our fuel pressures,” White says.

Data derived from the F-2 tests will inform procedures for RAAF MRTT crews when refuelling the Japanese type. The information will also be shared with other A330 MRTT operators. 

In a conflict in the East China Sea, tanking assets such as the A330 MRTT would be at a premium given the long distances allied aircraft will need to traverse.

The JASDF development follows news in March of the first operational refuelling between an RAAF MRTT and a US Navy Boeing P-8A anti-submarine warfare aircraft.

“Air-to-air refuelling provides a means of overcoming challenges to joint forces operating in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly by allowing aircraft to operate at much longer ranges,” said Group Captain Taylor, Commanding Officer of the RAAF’s 86 Wing about the work in March.

“Refuelling a surveillance aircraft like the P-8A also provides it with persistence in the joint space, and adds flexibility to how it might support the fleet.”

According to the RAAF, its MRTTs are cleared to refuel a broad range of types. These include the F-16, upon which the F-2 is based. The RAAF operates seven MRTTs.

Updated with remarks from the RAAF.